A Pinched Nerve Root in the Neck vs. the Lower Back
A pinched nerve can occur in any area of the body, including the spinal column. The individual vertebrae that form the spinal column are stacked on top of each other, and provide protection to the spinal cord, which runs from the base of the brain into the lower back. Along the way, nerve roots extend off the spinal cord, exit the spinal column through passageways called intervertebral foramina, and branch off into various areas of the body. These delicate nerve structures are particularly susceptible to compression as they travel through the foramina, as these openings are already narrow and can be easily constricted by bulging or herniated disc material, a displaced vertebra, or other anatomical abnormalities. While neuropathic symptoms usually occur as a result of a pinched spinal nerve root, where those symptoms arise will depend on whether the affected nerve root is located in the neck or lower back.
Cervical Nerve Root Compression
A pinched nerve root in the neck, or cervical region of the spine, could lead to some or all of the following symptoms:
- Sharp pain that shoots down the arms and into the hands and fingers
- Arm muscle weakness and numbness
- Tingling, or a pins-and-needles feeling in the neck, arms, hands, and fingers
Lumbar Nerve Root Compression
A pinched nerve root in the lower back, or lumbar region of the spine, may cause
- Shooting pain that travels down the legs and into the feet and toes
- Leg muscle weakness and numbness
- Muscle spasms
In most cases, doctors initially recommend that patients suffering from a pinched cervical or lumbar nerve root begin a regimen of conservative, nonsurgical treatments. These treatments can range from over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and prescription pain medication to physical therapy and lifestyle modification. Typically, several weeks or months of conservative pinched nerve treatment can effectively mitigate symptoms, and only a small percentage of patients fail to respond to these methods. As a result, these patients may be asked to consider surgical intervention.